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Pruritus is the medical term for itchiness caused by an irritating sensation on your skin that makes you want to scratch. This can occur anywhere on your skin.
Your feet are especially vulnerable because they tend to be placed in sweaty situations with various types of footwear. Many situations can lead to itchy feet, including exposure to:
- dry environments that lead to dry skin
- irritants, when walking barefoot
- infectious bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi
Although itchy feet are not usually a cause for concern, they can indicate an underlying skin condition or even a deeper internal disease. Understanding what symptoms you should and should not be worried about can help you find relief from worry.
Itchy feet may stem from a number of causes, including:
Foot itch caused by a medical condition may be related to an increase in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. For this reason, your doctor might prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication to treat itchiness.
Medical conditions that cause itchy feet include:
- liver disease
- cholestasis, which is decreased forward flow of bile through the biliary tree
- peripheral neuropathy, a condition commonly associated with diabetes mellitus
- polycythemia rubra vera
- kidney disease
- thyroid gland disease
- pruritus gravidarum during pregnancy (it may or may not have accompanying cholestasis)
Skin conditions that cause the feet to itch include:
- allergic contact dermatitis, which can be caused by something like new laundry detergent
- athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis (fungal infection)
- atopic dermatitis
- juvenile plantar dermatosis
- bug bites
- dry skin
- pest infestations, such as lice or scabies
Exposure to irritants
An irritant can be any substance that causes a reaction in or on your body. They can even be medications or topical ointments that you use to treat other conditions.
Itchy feet will make you want to scratch your skin. Changes to your skin may accompany the itchy sensation. Examples of skin changes are:
- cracked, open areas
- dry, scale-like plaques
- white spots
It’s also possible for your feet to itch with no accompanying physical skin surface changes.
See your doctor if your itchy feet don’t improve with home care or if your symptoms get worse with time.
Your doctor will take a thorough medical history and conduct a physical exam to diagnose itchy feet causes. The questions they might ask you include:
- Have you recently started taking any new medications?
- Have you been exposed to any potential irritants?
- Do you have any chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes mellitus or eczema?
- Have any family members, friends, or teammates recently experienced any skin-related concerns?
If necessary, your doctor can perform tests including:
- skin scraping
- blood tests
Some tests can check areas in or on top of your skin for the presence of germs, such as a fungus.
Your doctor will treat itchy feet according to the cause. For allergic reactions, avoiding the product or products causing the allergic reaction can help to reduce itchiness.
Treatments that may relieve itchy feet include the following:
- An H1-blocker antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), may help relieve itchiness. Antihistamines can have sedative and other unexpected side effects. Older adults may need to avoid using them.
- If you have athlete’s foot, antifungal sprays or creams may help. Chronic fungal infections may require a doctor-prescribed antifungal treatment.
- Topical anti-itch medication, emollients like petrolatum, and steroid creams may help reduce itching localized on the skin surface.
- Additionally, prescription medications like SSRIs, gabapentin, or tricyclic antidepressants may be beneficial in certain patients.
Good foot care habits can help reduce itchy feet and prevent some causes, such as a fungal infection. This includes always wearing waterproof shoes, such as flip-flops, in shared shower facilities or gym floors. You can also use these foot care measures:
- refrain from putting on shoes and socks until your feet are completely dry
- wash your feet regularly with mild soap, paying careful attention to the areas between your toes and applying moisturizer after you finish bathing
- wear cotton or wool socks
- wear shoes that are well-ventilated, such as those with mesh holes that help the feet stay dry
If you experience regular episodes of athlete’s foot, you may need to apply an antifungal powder to your feet before you put on your socks or shoes.